By Chris Rotolo |
MIDDLETOWN – Middletown High School North’s Michael Mayhew hasn’t gone searching for the spotlight, nor does he believe that his appearance on the Lions roster holds any sort of significance. After all, he is just a junior varsity skater with the simple desire to be one of the guys.
However, when Michael earned his place on North’s team this past November, first as a manager and in recent weeks as a rostered skater, the freshman came to symbolize the success of the exceptional local hockey program from which he emerged, and what’s more, has acted as a torchbearer for peers who, like him, have autism spectrum disorder.
“I remember when he came into the program seven years ago, he was very shy and introverted, but as he started to get comfortable being around other kids, having a social network of friends, playing in games and celebrating goals, and receiving praise, his skill level grew and so did his self-confidence,” said Alex Depalma, who in 2009 founded the Brick Stars Challenger Hockey Program, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization that teaches the game to children and young adults with developmental disabilities.
With an intense love for the game in his heart, Michael mustered the courage to approach the Middletown North coaching staff prior to the start of its 2017-18 campaign, speaking to the program heads about his intentions to try out for their team, a decision Lions varsity head coach Matt Clemente calls brave.
“The biggest takeaway for me is his courage and his willingness to put himself out there and continue to play, continue to get better at hockey each day and to have the passion and drive be part of a school team. It’s not an easy situation for any kid to step into, but Mike has faced it head on,” Clemente said. “We didn’t give him anything. Mike earned this opportunity. All the credit goes to him.”
For Michael Mayhew Sr., watching his son develop both the physical and social skills needed to meet the challenges of high school hockey has provided him with an overwhelming sense of pride for his skater.
“As a father, watching him mature into the young man he’s become has absolutely been rewarding. I can’t tell you how proud of him I am,” Mayhew said. “He set this goal for himself, he’s followed through on it and it all stems from his love for the game. He eats, sleeps and breathes hockey. It was his dream to be a part of this and he went for it.”
Lions junior varsity head coach Mike Alessi spoke of Michael’s character and approach to the game. “From Day One Mike has had an incredible attitude about his role on our team,” said Alessi. “We’ve started him out as our team manager and a practice player as well, and the way he’s approached each day, the way he works as hard as any other guy on our team, says a lot about him as a person, as well as the family he comes from.
“Mike’s teammates have embraced him because of the work ethic. I’ve seen the way the guys feed off of his effort,” Alessi added. “He’s become as big a part of this team as anyone that we have. I’m proud of the way he works. I’m proud of the teammate that he is. And I’m proud of the way he’s earned his place in this program. He’s one of us.”
And according to Michael’s father, who has been a volunteer coach with the Brick Stars Challenger Hockey Program since his son joined, the freshman isn’t alone.
“Having worked closely with the players of the Brick Stars program, quite honestly, there are a lot of kids like Mike who are at his level and capable of doing the same things. This is a big step that Michael has taken, but there are more kids who can follow him. And I just hope other high school programs in the area can help provide those opportunities.
“This is a situation that can be beneficial to everyone involved,” Mayhew added. “From the typical high school skater to the aspiring players coming from a program like the Brick Stars, there’s a benefit to be had. Michael isn’t playing in games yet, and frankly he probably shouldn’t be at this time. But the opportunity is there in the future.
“In the meantime, seeing the way he’s able to interact and be embraced by his teammates, the way he’s able to develop as a player and a person, it’s just an incredible opportunity,” said Mayhew. “From coach Depalma, to Clemente, to Alessi and coach Casey Baker, I can’t praise them enough for being great examples for my son, and helping him reach this goal.”
For more information on the Brick Stars Challenger Hockey Program, visit brickstarshockey.webs.com.
This article originally appeared in the Feb. 8-15, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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